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Kickstarter Crypto Game Goes Bust, Can't Refund Backers [Update]

Untamed Isles had been 'really excited' about 'play to earn'

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Untamed Isles
Image: Untamed Isles

In 2021, at the height of the world’s collective blockchain madness, a video game called Untamed Isles—Pokemon, but with crypto stuffmade over $500,000 on Kickstarter. A year later, the game is practically dead, and is so broke it can’t even refund its backers.

In a post on the game’s Steam page, the developers have said, “We have to pause the development of Untamed Isles and put the project on hold,” which sounds only temporary until you read the rest of what they’ve got to say:

There have been a myriad of factors that have caused the lead-up to this very moment but what this all comes down to is that we are unable to financially keep up with the demands of what we set out to do.

Untamed Isles is a very ambitious title being an open-world monster-catching MMORPG. To work on this project we brought more than 70 staff members on board and we were working relentlessly for more than 2 years to build the game we all were dreaming about. The truth is that the cost of development is high and there were lots of bumps on our way to this moment. Since we started the journey in 2020, the economic landscape has changed dramatically both generally and specifically for cryptocurrency, and we are not confident in the current market. We ran out of financial resources and we can’t carry on the development at this moment.

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When they say the “economic landscape has changed dramatically,” they mean “the ass has fallen out of the crypto market”:

We leaned into the crypto market and expanded rapidly off the back of the positive interest. When the crash came, we ended up heavily exposed with too short of a runway. The game remains game-first, crypto-second in design, but crypto funds have become, and remain, essential in getting us to the release. Unlike many of the projects that have foundered in the storm, we actually have a great game design that could stand on its own two feet. But until the crypto situation is resolved - and we’re confident it will be at some stage - then we have to hibernate development on this project.

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And that ass has fallen so far out that the devs say in a separate post, “Due to our cash reserves being empty, we are not in a position to refund our initial backers. We are truly sorry about this and wish this scenario was different.”

While this could be the part of the story where I say everyone backing this game got exactly what they deserved, the fact is that Untamed Isle’s crypto elements were optional, and it’s clear from backer feedback underneath the “hiatus” announcement on Kickstarter that a lot of people were only interested in the game itself, not its speculative elements:

Image for article titled Kickstarter Crypto Game Goes Bust, Can't Refund Backers [Update]
Image: Untamed Isles
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Untamed Isle’s “hiatus” is especially odd given it was only two weeks ago that the team were confirming a launch date of October 6, 2022, and that one of their key promises at the time of the Kickstarter campaign was that, “We are fortunate to have funding that allows us to safely deliver the core functionality and gameplay.”

UPDATE 7:30am, August 21: The developers have issued a follow-up statement saying that no backer money was invested in crypto (we have edited our post and headline to reflect this); instead, a number of crypto-related investors had been “lined up” and were “necessary to make it through our runway to launch”. When they pulled out following the market’s crash, it became “very clear we could not reach early access”.

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Untamed Isles was originally asking for NZD$200,000 on Kickstarter, and ultimately raised NZD$840,000. The game’s creators say “all funds raised through crowdfunding and through traditional investment were spent by the studio developing the game.”

In light of some recent media attention, we would like to address some misinformation and misunderstandings.

Phat Loot Studios and Untamed Isles did not invest any funds into crypto, all funds raised through crowdfunding and through traditional investment were spent by the studio developing the game.

The reason for the pausing of game development is due to the company exhausting its available funds. We have around 70 full-time staff and have had so for over a year and ran a smaller team for over 2 years.

We had several investors pull out recently due to concerns about both the economic market along with the crypto market at the moment which made it very clear we could not reach early access. If they had not pulled out, we were pushing to make the early access date we announced. This all happened after announcing our early access release date.

The game was progressing well and beta testing feedback was very positive. Unfortunately, the crypto market crash meant that investors that were lined up earlier this year pulled out (ie the token raise investors). This investment was necessary to make it through our runway to launch.

In addition, it was proving hard to get pre-order traction given the negative sentiment associated with web3-integrated games, despite Untamed Isles being primarily a full MMORPG game (with web3 marketplace only an ancillary future integration in the background for those players that wanted to trade their in-game items outside of the game). This caused us to take a critical look at launching the game in this current market.

As a consequence, it wasn’t possible to continue funding the development to hit the target release in October 2022.

Studio founders are looking at ways to salvage both the core studio and the game so that it can be completed and released down the track along with other possible titles.